Lutherans in Convention

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is holding its triennial convention this week in Houston, Texas. Since I identify as Lutheran (with some personal variations :)), I thought it would be worth looking at what’s going on. I’m following the events via the ALPB Forum, but you can also go to the official convention site for the video feed (zzzzz), press releases, photographs, and so on.

The big news so far is the surprisingly convincing (54 percent to 45 percent) defeat of two-term incumbent Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick at the hands of Rev. Matthew Harrison, current executive director of LCMS World Relief, a missionary and relief organization. Rarely in LCMS history has an incumbent synod president been defeated in convention, though the “moderate” Kieschnick lost to the “conservative” Harrison 643-527. I put the political terms in quotes because they’re both pretty conservative in theology as far as world Christianity goes (it is the LCMS after all), but that’s how they line up within the denomination (think a Texas primary between Kay Hutchison and Rick Perry). Moderates like Kieschnick tend to take their cues from what is going around in Christianity around them (like contemporary worship ahem) while the conservatives (self-styled “confessionals”) tend to try to preserve Lutheran identity. LCMS World Relief is one of the denomination’s better organizations, so Harrison figures to be a good choice. He’d previously also served as a pastor in Iowa and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Plus he’s a blogger, plays a mean banjo, and rocks a ‘stache. (Harrison’s victory was probably inevitable!) Ironically, the convention also passed much of the restructuring and consolidation of power that outgoing president Kieschnick wanted. Ooops.

(In secular politics this happens all the time. Make consolidating power in the chief executive a conservative issue, and then the people elect Barack Obama. This mistake is avoided with what I’ve always called “The Hillary Clinton Question.” It’s one of the more conservative questions a person can him or herself: “Would I support this executive action if my political opposite [Hillary Clinton] were in office?” If no, then don’t do it. This question works surprisingly well. Would I support “enhanced interrogation,” warrant-less wiretaps, indefinite detention, etc. if Hillary was president? NO, so I didn’t when Bush was either.)

The LCMS in convention also responded to the ELCA’s actions last summer where they announced support for “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships” as morally acceptable and authorized the ordination of homosexuals in committed relationships. Compared to the ELCA, the LCMS was quite united on the issue and very much opposed. The delegates adopted two resolutions overwhelmingly (1133-35 and 1093-61) asserting the belief that “the practice of homosexuality—in any and all situations… must be recognized as sin,” but committing themselves “to approach those with homosexual inclinations with the deepest possible Christian love and pastoral concern, in whatever situation they may be living.” Here is the full press release. How can two church bodies with the name “Lutheran” in them be so radically different?

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